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Rosemary Harris

Rosemary Harris

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Also Known As: Rosemary Ann Harris Died:
Born: September 19, 1927 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Suffolk, England, GB Profession: actress, nurse

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

This sensitive, expressive leading and supporting player is best known for her stellar stage work and occasional yet indelible film and TV appearances. Rosemary Harris frequently played secure, formidable women; strong adversaries or staunch supporters. Her delicate features and petite frame belied a fiercely determined, fully evolved persona. After growing up in India and preparing for a career in nursing, she changed course and began acting studies at London's prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Harris made her stage debut in NYC in the Broadway production of Moss Hart's "Climate of Eden" (1951) and then returned to her native England where she debuted on the West End in the British premiere of "The Seven Year Itch" (1952).Harris proved an enormously popular and versatile player on both sides of the Atlantic and a succession of classical and modern roles followed. Over the course of her distinguished career, she had the good fortune to act opposite some of the most important figures in the theater including Richard Burton ("Othello" 1955), Jason Robards ("The Disenchanted" 1958), Laurence Olivier ("Uncle Vanya" 1963), Peter O'Toole ("Hamlet" 1964), Rex Harrison ("Heartbreak House" 1984) and...

This sensitive, expressive leading and supporting player is best known for her stellar stage work and occasional yet indelible film and TV appearances. Rosemary Harris frequently played secure, formidable women; strong adversaries or staunch supporters. Her delicate features and petite frame belied a fiercely determined, fully evolved persona. After growing up in India and preparing for a career in nursing, she changed course and began acting studies at London's prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Harris made her stage debut in NYC in the Broadway production of Moss Hart's "Climate of Eden" (1951) and then returned to her native England where she debuted on the West End in the British premiere of "The Seven Year Itch" (1952).

Harris proved an enormously popular and versatile player on both sides of the Atlantic and a succession of classical and modern roles followed. Over the course of her distinguished career, she had the good fortune to act opposite some of the most important figures in the theater including Richard Burton ("Othello" 1955), Jason Robards ("The Disenchanted" 1958), Laurence Olivier ("Uncle Vanya" 1963), Peter O'Toole ("Hamlet" 1964), Rex Harrison ("Heartbreak House" 1984) and John Gielgud ("The Best of Friends" 1987). She has been nominated eight times for Broadway's Tony Award, taking home the prize in 1966 for creating the role of Eleanor of Aquitaine in James Goldman's "The Lion in Winter" in 1966. Other highlights of her stage career include her strong-willed Anna in Harold Pinter's "Old Times" (1971), the Ethel Barrymore-like actress in "The Royal Family" (1975), the plain English housewife who discovers her neighbors are spies in "Pack of Lies" (1985), the mother of a diabetic in "Steel Magnolias" (1991), the iron-willed grandmother in Neil Simon's "Lost in Yonkers" (1992), a troubled wife in "An Inspector Calls" (1994),the smug Agnes of Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance" (1996) and a aging stage diva in "Waiting in the Wings" (1999-2000).

On the small screen, Harris has graced a number of TV productions since the mid-1950s, including playing Olivia in an adaptation of "Twelfth Night" (NBC, 1957). She went on to play the rich wife whose husband plots her murder in "Dial M For Murder" (NBC, 1958), the romantic Cathy to Richard Burton's Heathcliff in "Wuthering Heights" (NBC, 1958) and the beleaguered second wife in "Blithe Spirit" (NBC, 1966). She won a justly deserved Emmy Award for her brilliantly crafted portrait of the flamboyant French novelist George Sand in the drama series "Notorious Woman" (PBS, 1975) and offered an equally fine performance as the heroine Mrs. Ramsay in a 1984 adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel "To the Lighthouse". Harris is perhaps best remembered for her appearances as matriarchs in two well-received miniseries: "Holocaust" (NBC, 1978), playing the aristocratic head of a Jewish family, and "The Chisolms" (CBS, 1979), as the wife and mother of a pioneering Virginia family in 1844.

Harris made a striking film debut as the unrequited love interest of Stewart Granger as "Beau Brummell" (1954) but rejected Hollywood offers of seven-year contracts to pursue her first love--the theater. Consequently, her film appearances have been infrequent. She did not make another film for some 14 years, turning up in the poorly received "A Flea in Her Ear" (1968), which also marked her US debut. Ten years later she gave memorable support in the thriller "The Boys From Brazil" (1978) and subsequently co-starred in the political drama "The Ploughman's Lunch" (1983). Harris gave a strong, volatile performance as T S Eliot's iron-willed mother-in-law in "Tom & Viv" (1994), which garnered her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Kenneth Branagh tapped her to play the Player Queen to Charlton Heston's Player King in a full-length version of "Hamlet" (1996). Harris then essayed yet another strong-willed matriarch, this time of a Scottish family in "My Life So Far" (1999). She and her daughter, actress Jennifer Ehle, shared the pivotal role of Valerie Sonnenshein Sors in Istvan Szabo's epic "Sunshine" (1999). Ehle portrayed the youthful, headstrong Valerie while Harris lent dignity and grace to the older Valerie who lives through the Holocaust and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

A role as psychic Cate Blanchett's grandmother in "The Gift" (2000) marked her first collaboration with director Sam Raimi, who next cast her in the pivotal role of Peter Parker's elderly Aunt May in the blockbuster comic book adapatation "Spider-Man" (2002), a role she reprised with greater prominence in the 2004 sequel "Spider-Man 2."

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
3.
 Spider-Man 3 (2007)
4.
 Being Julia (2004) Mrs. Lambert
5.
 Spider-Man 2 (2004) May Parker
6.
 Broadway: The Golden Age (2004) Herself
7.
 Spider-Man (2002) Auntie May Parker
8.
 Blow Dry (2001) Daisy
9.
 Gift, The (2000) Annie'S Granny
10.
 My Life So Far (1999) Gamma
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in India
1948:
Made her stage acting debut with a bit part in "Winter Sunshine"
1951:
Made onscreen acting debut in the TV-movie "A Cradle of Willow" (BBC)
1952:
First appeared on the New York stage in "Climate of Eden"
1953:
London stage debut, "The Seven Year Itch"
1954:
Made her feature acting debut in "Beau Brummell" as Mrs. Fitzherbert, the mistress of the Prince of Wales (Peter Ustinov)
1955:
Joined the Old Vic Theatre in London; played Desdemona opposite Richard Burton in "Othello"
1957:
Portrayed Olivia in NBC "Hallmark Hall of Fame" production of "Twelfth Night"
1958:
Co-starred with Jason Robards in "The Disenchanted"
1958:
Appeared as Cathy to Richard Burton's Heathcliff in a CBS production of "Wuthering Heights"
1960:
Joined the newly-formed APA Company in New York and appeared in many of its wide-ranging productions performed in repertory; remained affiliated with company until 1967
1962:
Appeared in Laurence Olivier's Company at the Chichester Festival Theatre for its first season
1963:
Joined London's National Theatre playing Ophelia and Ilyena opposite Peter O'Toole and Laurence Olivier (respectively) in productions of "Hamlet" and "Uncle Vanya"
1963:
Reprised Ilyena in the TV adaptation of "Uncle Vanya," featuring Laurence Olivier
1966:
Created the role of Eleanor of Aquitaine in the Broadway production of "The Lion In Winter"; earned her first Tony Award nomination
1966:
Cast as Elvira in NBC's "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit"
1968:
Featured in the film adaptation of "A Flea in Her Ear"
1969:
Cast opposite Paul Rogers in Neil Simon's "Plaza Suite"
1971:
Starred in Harold Pinter's "Old Times"; earned Tony Award nomination
1973:
Played Blanche DuBois in a Broadway revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire"
1974:
Portrayed author George Sand in the seven-part BBC production of "Notorious Woman" (aired in the U.S. on PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre" in 1976)
1975:
Played Julie Cavendish, an Ethel Barrymore-like actress in the revival of "The Royal Family"; garnered third Tony Award nomination; reprised role in 1977 for the PBS production
1978:
Had supporting role in "The Boys From Brazil," starring Laurence Olivier and Gregory Peck
1978:
Played the matriarch of a German Jewish family in the acclaimed NBC miniseries "Holocaust"; received an Emmy nomination
1979:
Made debut as a series regular on the CBS drama "The Chisholms," playing the matriarch of a frontier family
1983:
Had rare film role in "The Ploughman's Lunch"
1984:
Co-starred as Hesione Hushabye opposite Rex Harrison's Captain Shotover in George Bernard Shaw's revival of "Heartbreak House"; received fourth Tony Award nomination; reprised role in the 1985 Showtime adaptation
1984:
Delivered a brilliant turn as Mrs. Ramsay in a TV adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel "To the Lighthouse" (PBS)
1985:
Offered tour de force performance as an ordinary British housewife who discovers her neighbors are spies in "Pack of Lies"; nominated for fifth Tony Award
1986:
Headed the cast of the spirited revival of Noel Coward's "Hay Fever"; earned sixth Tony Award nomination
1987:
Acted alongside John Gielgud and Ray McAnally in "The Best of Friends"
1988:
Had featured role in the feature romantic comedy "Crossing Delancy"
1988:
Supported Glenda Jackson in the PBS miniseries version of Eugene O'Neill's "Strange Interlude"
1988:
Was featured in "The Old Reliable," a segment of the PBS miniseries "Tales from the Hollywood Hills"
1991:
Starred in the London production of "Steel Magnolias"
1992:
Portrayed the aged Calypso, a character played as a young woman by daughter Jennifer Ehle, in the BBC production of "The Camomile Lawn"
1992:
Succeeded Irene Worth as the grandmother in Neil Simon's Pulitzer-winning "Lost in Yonkers"
1994:
Played the mother of the troubled, mentally disturbed Vivienne Haigh-Wood in the biopic "Tom & Viv"; received a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination
1994:
Acted on Broadway in the acclaimed revival of "An Inspector Calls"
1996:
Appeared alongside George Grizzard and Elaine Stritch in the revival of Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance"; received a Tony nomination
1996:
Cast as the Player Queen opposite Charlton Heston's Player King in Kenneth Branagh's all-star full-length film version of "Hamlet"
1999:
Portrayed the matriarch of a Scottish family in "My Life So Far"
1999:
Shared the role of Valerie with daughter Jennifer Ehle in Istvan Szabo's historical epic "Sunshine"
1999:
Co-starred with Lauren Bacall in the Noel Coward comedy "Waiting in the Wings"; received eighth career Tony Award nomination
2000:
Had cameo as Cate Blanchett's grandmother in "The Gift"
2002:
Appeared in a stage revival of Edward Albee's "All Over"
2002:
Cast as Aunt May Parker in Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man," starring Tobey Maguire
2004:
Reprised role of Aunt May Parker in "Spider-Man 2"
2004:
Played the title character's mother in the period drama "Being Julia" opposite Annette Bening
2007:
Once again teamed with Tobey Mcguire and director Sam Raimi for "Spider-Man 3"
2007:
Joined Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke and Albert Finney in Sidney Lumet's crime thriller "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"
2009:
Returned to co-star in the Broadway revival of "The Royal Family" playing the role of matriarch Fanny Cavendish; earned a Tony Award nomination for Featured Actress in a Play
2011:
Starred in the Broadway production of "The Road to Mecca," based on a play by South African playwright and novelist Athol Fugard
2012:
Landed a supporting role in "This Means War," an action comedy starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, and Tom Hardy
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Royal Academy of Dramatic Art: London , England - 1951 - 1952

Notes

Harris has received honorary doctorates from Smith College (1969), Wake Forest University (1978) and from the North Carolina School of the Arts.

According to Rosemary Harris, she and her daughter did not discuss the role of Valerie in "Sunshine". After viewing the film, she told Tom Brook of BBC News Entertainment (April 29, 2000): "I was amazed when I saw the similarities we bear and which I wasn't aware of. I think it's in the hand gestures or something."

"I was just realizing the difference when I first came to Broadway more than 40 years ago in 1952 and 40 years before that in 1912, when there were so many melodramas on Broadway. Who dreamed the theater would ever be what it was in 1952 back in 1912? So, too, I've seen a great may changes in the theater. It's so amazing-and exciting! But we do know one sure thing: that the theater will never die. The patient, sometimes called 'The Fabulous Invalid,' is not going to die." --Rosemary Harris to Ward Morehouse III, TheatereMania (www.theatermania.com), February 7, 2000

Companions close complete companion listing

husband:
Ellis Rabb. Actor, director. Married on December 4, 1959; divorced in 1967; directed Harris in several plays; died in January 1998 at age 67.
husband:
John Ehle. Screenwriter, novelist. Married on October 21, 1967.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Stafford Berkley Harris.
mother:
Enid Maude Frances Harris.
daughter:
Jennifer Ehle. Actor. Born in December 1969; appeared in BBC/A&E production of "Pride and Prejudice"; shared role of Valerie in "Sunshine" (1999).

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